What If Gratitude is the Gateway Drug?

Without question, life is more fun when we choose to see it as a treasure hunt. But what do we do when we get to chronic illness? Seek gratitude ……. gratitude? What are we grateful .. you ask? Good question and just know, I have every intention of clarifying this suggestion.

Earlier today I began posting on Twitter about gratitude being a key component to improving our experience of health. And then I wondered about potential backlash because it’s not my intention to upset anyone. At the same time, our collective health issues are at an all time high which tells me something’s got to give. Now, I know how hard it is to be grateful during painful and uncomfortable times whether we’re talking about health or wealth. In fact, whenever anyone has encouraged me to focus on something I was grateful for, I did nothing but twitch … the attitude of gratitude … isn’t that what they say? Yet, how could saying I was grateful for my kids, or a bed to sleep in, or, or, or quell the pain? I won’t deny it was both a great distraction and temporary.

First of all, I’m a terrible actor. If I don’t feel something, I can’t pretend as if I do. And that’s just it, saying I was / am grateful for something without feeling it is like eating a single chip or a handful of air-popped popcorn. You’re going through the motions without feeling the fulfillment; so, just saying I’m grateful is meaningless. Now I’m not saying I’m not grateful for a bed, food, my kids and so on; I am. However, the pain and discomfort of being human often supersedes all other feelings; therefore, to focus on something other than the present malaise was and is quite the effort.

Truth be told, this level of dissatisfaction is one of the biggest reasons I succumbed to my ‘need to know more’ . I guess you could say I am compelled by curiosity and the only way I can wrap my head around another person’s suggestion is to seek to understand why they say what they do. This doesn’t necessarily mean ‘they’ are right; it’s just a catalyst for me to go deeper and learn more. Not to mention, my other driving force happens to be my inability to, accept the fact that there is anything fundamentally wrong with Nature … plants, animals, microbes, cells, human nature … you name it. Somehow, there has to be an order to why things go the way they do that lack proper identification. Trust me, this isn’t the easiest thing to say given the amount of physical suffering I’ve witnessed as well as endured.

So, where do I begin?

Well, in order to feel anything beyond pain and discomfort, a person must go deeper. As I’ve discovered, suffering, upset, anguish etc. are all due to stress. What is stress? For the sake of keeping this as short as possible, stress is a mechanism of protection . Stress is our body’s answer to all incoming information; it’s a means of helping us to survive. You may be wondering how negative emotions are related to stress? They direct our thoughts in order to take the necessary steps for restoring balance, or as I like to call it, stability. The unfortunate part to this is the way we get ‘hooked’ on the struggle and distress. I know this statement isn’t going to go well either; yet, we do. Although, that’s not out of desire, it’s due to our nature. What do I mean by this? Well, to bottom line it, cortisol has been linked to the changes we see in the dopaminergic mesolimbic pathway … the area of the brain related to addiction. Without going off on a tangent, I will say this: this understanding alone explains every single person’s behavior. Essentially, we’re all living with addiction, with a good percentage of the human population self-medicating with substances and / or alcohol. The rest of us engage in such activities that keep the stress flowing. This is why I say ‘hooked on struggle and distress’. Without even realizing it, they are our ‘drugs of choice’. With this in mind, it’s nearly impossible to feel gratitude when cortisol is ‘running the ship’.

Therefore, seeing nature as flawless is our best resource. Oh, we definitely have our judgmental spin, but that’s just a human interpretation. As I explore the inner workings of nature, it’s clear, chemicals are the implements of communication which are influenced by stress. Keep in mind, stress is neither good nor bad. It’s simply a mechanism of survival, influencing both growth and decline. What’s more, as humans, we have the capacity to affect how this goes. As it is, I happen to own just two books called ‘Molecules of Emotion’ and ‘Biology of Belief’ both of which affirm, along with countless other research documents, that the way we choose to think directly affects, with the potential to regulate, our neurochemistry. This is huge!!

We are nature .. not separate from it. Our minds are exceedingly powerful no matter the amount of stress we’re presently exposed to. Therefore to feel gratitude for anything takes the willingness to overpower … to rise above the pain and discomfort … to not allow the stress of our existence to win.

As humans, we have the capacity to interact with our body. Nature is wired to thrive and as far as I can tell, we are the only species stuck in survival. Sadly, we have trapped a number of animals through domestication (which is another post altogether); however, mindfulness is a gift bestowed upon the human. Animals are aware and often restricted by human thought. At the same time, if we actually accepted our ability to create shifts through command and feeling, we’d make a marked improvement in many lives … including the animals. It’s for this reason I believe gratitude is a gateway drug…

This ‘stress’ that I talk about ALL THE TIME, influences the production of every chemical in our body, including oxidative stress .. not because the body or nature is trying to kill us off but because it’s wired to survive. I know I mentioned earlier that we’re wired to thrive; however, consider survival is the foundation of thriving and in order to break free from the inflammatory process that keeps us imprisoned in survival, we must put aside our negative and inflammatory thoughts. Our body is trying desperately to keep us alive and the greater the stress, the harder it has to work. On the flip side, the more discomfort we feel tells us exactly how hard it’s fighting for our lives. Therefore, are you open to seeing the gift in the discomfort? Are you willing to see it as a mechanism of protection? Are you willing to thank your body for keeping you alive? Are you ready to appreciate what is and redirect your thoughts in order to thrive?